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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Intercontinental Transport of Dust: Science and Policy, pre-1800s to 1967

Ken Wilkening

Environment and History 17 (2011): 313-339. doi: 10.3197/096734011X12997574043125

I begin with this paper a history of science and policy related to intercontinental transport of air pollution, starting with long-range atmospheric transport of dust from the pre-1800s to 1967. Dust is spotlighted because it was the first trace substance ('pollutant') recognised to travel intercontinental and global distances and because long-range transport in some locations of the world was eventually seen to be associated with large-scale environmental problems. Based on data gathered from primary and secondary written source materials, I conclude that, relative to sustainability, the outstanding achievement between 1800 and 1967 was development of an Earth-spanning conceptual structure that fused scientific knowledge, environmental ethics and options for political action, what I call a dust-related 'Earth system problem-framework'. Specifically, scientists outlined a world dust-system framework with a land ethic at its core. The arduous path to this accomplishment highlights the large-scale, long-term, multidisciplinary effort required to create holistic, whole-Earth conceptual structures for global environment governance.

KEYWORDS: Dust, aerosols, long-range transport of air pollution, Earth system science, global environmental policy

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